The Difference Between Good and Bad Cholesterol

Did you know that your body needs cholesterol to function? Although it has a bad reputation due to its link to heart disease, cholesterol is something we all need to live. The difference lies between your “good” and “bad” cholesterol. 

At Integrative Primary Care in Houston, our team approaches your cholesterol levels as a window into your health. Syed Farhat Zaidi, MD, uses these numbers to create an action plan for your health, aiming to increase your “good” cholesterol and lower your “bad” cholesterol. 

To help you better understand the difference between good and bad cholesterol, our team created this informative guide. Read on to learn why it’s important for some cholesterol numbers to be high and others to be low. 

What is cholesterol?

Cholesterol is a waxy fat your body naturally produces to make hormones, bile, and convert sunlight to vitamin D. You don’t need to eat cholesterol to get enough of what your body needs. Your liver produces adequate cholesterol to support essential body functions.  

However, if you eat animal products, such as eggs, cheese, milk, fish, and meat, you may end up with more cholesterol than you need. That’s because these foods contain saturated fat, which triggers an increased production in your body’s cholesterol.

Specialized proteins, called lipoproteins, carry cholesterol to every cell in your body. The two types of lipoproteins related to this process have been dubbed “bad” and “good” cholesterols based on their functions.

Low-density lipoproteins (LDL), often called “bad” cholesterol, carry most of the cholesterol in your body, distributing it throughout your body’s systems. High-density lipoproteins (HDL), on the other hand, have been named the “good” cholesterol, because they transport excess LDL back to the liver where it can be processed as waste.

Why is “bad” cholesterol bad?

While too much “bad” cholesterol, or LDL, isn’t good for you, LDL cholesterol is actually an important and necessary part of your body. LDL cholesterol transports fat to your cells to provide much-needed energy and to support other important body functions. 

However, when you have more LDL cholesterol than necessary, the molecules can oxidize and build up on the walls of your arteries. Over time, this can narrow your arterial passageways and increases your risk of heart disease and stroke. 

While genetics can play a role in the oxidation of LDL molecules, for most Americans, lifestyle factors are the biggest contributor. Factors that can increase your risk of elevated LDL levels include: 

To lower or maintain low LDL cholesterol levels, it’s important to have a healthy, active lifestyle. This includes eating a diet based on foods high in antioxidants, such as vegetables, plants, fruits, seeds, and legumes, and eliminating or reducing foods high in saturated fat and cholesterol, such as meat, eggs, cheese, and dairy

What makes “good” cholesterol good?

HDL cholesterol is often called “good” cholesterol because it helps lower the amount of LDL cholesterol in your system. This friendly cholesterol absorbs LDL cholesterol and carries it to your liver. Your liver treats this excess LDL cholesterol as a waste product so it can be broken down and expelled from your body. 

Dr. Zaidi looks for high HDL levels, as these can indicate a lower risk of heart disease and stroke. Unfortunately, many otherwise healthy people don’t achieve healthy HDL levels because of a poor diet.   

You can improve your “good” cholesterol by:

How do I learn more about my cholesterol?

To find out what your cholesterol numbers are, Dr. Zaidi will give you a simple blood test. He’ll also give you a physical exam and go over your family history and current health.

If your bad cholesterol is high or your good cholesterol is low, Dr. Zaidi can guide you in making needed lifestyle changes. In some cases, he might prescribe medication to help lower your risk of developing heart disease.

To learn more about the difference between good and bad cholesterol and how you can achieve healthy numbers, book an appointment online or over the phone with Integrative Primary Care today.

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